The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, commonly referred to as California Proposition 65, is a bill passed by the California state legislature. The purpose of the bill is to stop potentially dangerous chemicals and toxic substances from polluting clean drinking water.

Additionally, the state of California enacted laws mandating businesses to provide warning labels regarding potential exposure to hazardous chemicals and materials.

Prop 65 focuses primarily on substances which cause birth defects, cancer, or reproductive toxicity. In the past, these harmful chemicals and carcinogens were dumped into public drinking water, putting the population at risk of developing medical issues and complications. This also applies to work environments, apartment buildings/housing, and more. The purpose of the law is to inform the citizens of California about the substances they are exposed to, as well as prevent unnecessary pollution.

The law is overseen by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). The OEHHA provides annual guidelines for businesses as well as information to citizens. They also receive and respond to public comments regarding changes to the chemical list.

Substances Which Require Warning Labels

The OEHHA List provides a definitive guide to which chemicals and substances require warnings. It is updated annually with new information.

The substance list contains everything from manufacturing byproducts, to everyday household chemicals, and even food or other consumables.

How Does it Impact Businesses?

The bill puts all of the pressure to comply on businesses. If an organization exposes individuals to any of the chemicals or substances on the list, proper identification is mandatory.

This includes consumer products, work environments or job spaces, housing, etc.

In short, if someone is exposed to a substance, they need to be made aware.

It may be alarming to see many products that we are exposed to on a daily basis on the list, or if you’re shopping and see a warning label. This may steer consumers from purchasing those products, effectively forcing businesses to change their production processes.

In addition to the warning labels, organizations are prohibited from directly polluting into drinking water. This is an important part of the legislation which is sometimes overshadowed by the labeling mandate.

These mandates take significant time and resources. Businesses must create or purchase warning labels or tags. In order to maintain guidelines this may cause them to reformulate products, change their processes to create less pollution, or change their internal safety procedures. While this may be a challenge for businesses, it serves the purpose of keeping the public safe.

Stay Informed

All relevant decision-makers must stay up-to-date on Prop 65. The laws are constantly changing. The chemical list is update on an annual basis. Substances are added, modified, or removed. Safe harbor thresholds are modified.

Businesses have 12 months from the time a new chemical is added to the list to comply. If they fail to do so, they face a whole world of legal issues or potential fines.

Fines/Legal Issues

When a company fails to comply, the OEHHA will begin fining the offending organization up to $2,500 per violation per day. This quickly adds up to a hefty bill for an organization with numerous violations. For a smaller size business this could be crippling. For larger scale operations, there may be dozens or more violations, leading to substantial penalties.

On top of the fines, businesses need to be prepared for potential litigation. Prop 65 has been especially volatile in attracting personal and private lawsuits. It’s an easy target to blame a company for sickness or worse if they are not correctly labeling their products. The regulations have been modified over time in an attempt to make it easier for companies to avoid unfair lawsuits.


There are some exemptions to Prop 65 rules. Government agencies are exempt from the requirements. In addition, companies with fewer than 10 employees are not required to follow the ruling. This also includes the pollution prohibitions as well. Small businesses and government agencies are afforded these protections against fines and potential litigation.

Safe Harbor Levels

Not all substances on the Proposition 65 list are considered dangerous at all quantities or volumes. In many instances, a limit is set in regards to the amount of exposure permitted before a warning is required. In short, if an organization keeps their exposure levels beneath this threshold, they are not required to provide warnings. The state considers these trace amounts to not pose a significant health risk.

Companies which stay within these restrictions are given “safe harbor” from the Prop 65 mandates. These aptly-named safe harbor levels are updated on a yearly basis to reflect new studies as well as changes to the list.

What Goes on the Prop 65 Warning Label?

This piece of legislation has been around since 1986, and has seen various changes since its inception. Prior iterations of the mandate only called for a generalized warning label. Something along the lines of “this product contains a chemical that may cause cancer”. While that may seem sufficient at first glance, it led to some major issues.

Since companies did not have to specify which chemicals were potentially hazardous, warning labels became ubiquitous. Putting a warning label on every product was less costly than getting hit with major lawsuits.

This effect did not provide accurate or useful information to consumers. Which in turn also did not lead to major health outcome benefits.

The newest version of the law went into effect on August 30, 2018. It included many changes to the required labeling procedure.

New regulations specify the word “WARNING” must be bold. An effective warning label must also include a warning sign image (triangle with exclamation point in the center). The warning sign should always be to the left of the text. It must also be either yellow and black, or black and white.

The most important change to the warning message is that now it must include the name of the specific chemical or substance that is in that product or environment. Gone are the days of a generic label to cover all products in a company’s portfolio.

In addition to clearer info, the warning tag must also include the URL to the California Government web page providing more information: (

Example of the new standard:


The OEHHA defines the correct Proposition 65 warning label as a “clear and reasonable warning”. The idea is to not force one standard message and allow for some freedom pertaining to each scenario. This allows for better messaging based on the situation.


Proposition 65 serves a real purpose: keeping the citizens of California and neighboring communities safe.

The main focus is providing a clear warning. The point of the law is to protect customers, workers, and also lead to better environmental safety.

The new standards are clearer and also more informative to the individuals they pertain to. Only time will tell if the change has a positive impact on health and safety outcomes. Moving forward it is also likely corporate practices which impact the environment will only become more transparent.

Contact Us

At Metal Marker, we provide high-quality custom identification solutions. Get your business ready to comply with California Proposition 65 with accurate and cost-effective warning labels.

Our custom metal warning nameplates, warning tags, and warning decals are perfect for adhering to the OEHHA guidelines. Don’t leave your organization vulnerable to fines, litigation, or worse. Make sure you are clearly identifying your toxicants with Prop 65 warning labels.

Contact us today for more information!